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“Santosh, I am coming down. Please bring the car at the gate in 15 minutes. And don’t be late, I don’t want to hear another of that traffic excuse please” I said. Santosh was my driver for the last 5 years. He was obedient and diligent but had this habit of coming late when called, especially while going back to home. His excuse was always the same, “Sir, there was some jam at the basement parking” but I somehow knew that it wasn’t due to traffic but due to his extended game of cards with other drivers, which used to completely absorb him.
I was working in a Multinational Corporate at a top management, enjoying both repute and perks which could make any of my counterpart envious. Though, most of the people around me used to believe that it was largely the mix of coincidence and luck, the fact remained that it wasn’t. People don’t realise that at times a lot goes into making those moment a reality which they often term as coincidence and luck. And it was no different in my case too; I had worked pretty hard to achieve all this and many a time at the cost of my personal commitments too. But at the end of the day, considering all that I had achieved, it appeared completely worth it.
Today was specifically a hectic day with back-to-back meetings until 8 in the evening and then flurry of e-mails to respond and authorizations to do. I felt too tired and that’s why wanted Santosh to be right there waiting for me when I come down. But again, there was no sign of him; I glanced at my watch which showed 2300 hours. I have thought many a time to buy a room set in Gurgaon near my office so that I can go there when I have a long day at office. This would absolve me from that one-two hour tryst with road (which is really a torture after gruelling for 12-14 hours in the office). And furthermore that thing called home is slowly reducing to a mere structure of mortar and bricks, where I take shelter at night. I do sometimes ponder as to where has that homely thing vanished suddenly, is that the price one has to pay for being successful!!
It was just when I thought of again calling him up, I saw a glimpse of my white Honda City piercing through the fog that enveloped the whole surrounding as if to cover it to from the harsh cold wind that was blowing. “Now, what’s the explanation for today Santosh. I have been standing in this biting cold for the last ten minutes but you just don’t understand” I shouted. Before he could offer some explanation, I continued while sitting in the car, “Dare you give me that traffic hymn once again. I manage the team of fifty here and they have not given me that position without any reason. I can see the difference between a false excuse and reality. You better stick to my words else I would have to look for the alternative.”
Santosh didn’t say anything, I must admit he was always patient when it came to deal with me. When I say patient, I don’t mean I expected him to retaliate but he maintained silence without provoking me further. “Shit, it’s so foggy around here. Santosh, drive carefully and avoid these cabbies altogether. They are so drunk at this time that they themselves don’t realise where their car is going.” It was a cold day with the temperature zeroing itself to new lows. Those ten minutes outside waiting for the car made me completely numb. It felt like hundreds of needles piercing the body; you can’t breathe, you can’t move. Even for that bout of oxygen to inhale, one has to gasp hard and harder. We must have travelled about 6-7 km when the car suddenly stopped with a jerk.
“What happened, Santosh” I asked.
“No idea sir, let me check.” I had a glance around that was the perfect place and time for the car to break down. It was a deserted stretch with big farm houses on one side and a vast airport on the other. It was just about the midnight hour and expecting even the slightest movement there would be same as to expect Santosh to report on time.
“Sir, I am not able to understand the problem; everything appears to be alright. Let me see if there’s any mechanic available nearby.”
He went to search for the mechanic. “Great” I thought. This was the last thing I wanted to happen at this point of time and I was sure that, leave aside mechanic, Santosh would not be able to find even a single shop on that stretch.
And, once again, my pre notion came true, “Sir, there is no mechanic available nearby, perhaps because it’s pretty late.”
I heaved a deep sigh and said, “I don’t know, how you maintain the vehicle Santosh. I have told you many a times to get it serviced on time and keep checking the fuel & oil periodically. But you just don’t listen.”
“Sir, I have got all the services done on time and have checked the oils last week only.”
“Then how the hell did it break down in the middle of the night on this bloody isolated road. You have the answer and justification for every damn thing I say.” I gave him the stare as I dialled one of those radio taxi’s number.
“Welcome to ABC Cabs. Your call is important to us, Please wait as our customer care executive come to assist you. You are caller number 5” and then after a series of number pressings and rounds of questions and answers which went on and on like a spiral, it culminated with a response “We apologise sir, there is no vehicle available at your location for next 45 minutes.”
“Damn, now what” I was fretting and fuming “isn’t there any sort of assistance available around?”
“Sir, there is a bus stop about a km from here and night service from DTC operates from there every thirty minutes.”
“And how do you want me to go there…fly?” I retorted. I rammed out of the car along-with my laptop bag glanced the road like a pendulum from one side to other many a times.
“Listen, I want you to take the car to the workshop and get it repaired and then go to home. I don’t care how you do that or how much time it takes. But until and unless that’s done, you will not go home” I said as I started walking to the bus stand without waiting for his answer.
It was freezing cold outside and I was literally shivering with my teeth grinding continuously, “Damn. It doesn’t feel even 10% of this in office.” As I walked my way, I saw a person making arrangement to sleep on the pavement - spreading couple of torn bed sheets on the ground, placing a dirty uneven bag as a pillow and stretching an untidy, completely rotten piece of blanket to cover himself to deter that cold which was nail biting. What he did next completely took me for a toss. There was a dog sleeping at some way from him who was squeezing himself the maximum he could, to avoid the cold but still shuddering hard. The man gently picked him up and placed him at one corner of his (so called) bedding and then slept with that thin blanket on, covering a part of the dog as well. The dog too felt the cosiness and his shuddering stopped.
I was completely frozen at that sight and couldn’t even move a step. That simple gesture of the man hit me hard from inside. You don’t actually need the means to be humble and empathetic; a mere intent is enough. Here is an illiterate, lower strata man who, despite being in a rough state himself, is compassionate enough to share his limited resources with an animal. And here is me, a self-proclaimed creamy class, white collar professional who has just been so harsh to his driver instructing him to remain out in the cold till the car gets repaired. Not even thinking for a second that from where would he arrange everything and how would he sustain in that nail biting cold till morning. And then all the previous conversations of mine with Santosh started playing in my mind. Have I really forgotten that basic lesson of being humble and compassionate?
My feet took me back to my car where Santosh stood restless doing something on his phone. He suddenly saw me and said, “Sir, did you forgot something? You should have called me and I would have brought that to you. Why did you bother to walk back yourself?”
Those words pierced me further. I didn’t say anything and called Just Dial from my phone and enquired about ‘Tow Me’ services around the area. Luckily, there were couple of ‘Tow Me’ service providers available in the near vicinity. I called one of them and waited for the van to come. When the van arrived, I handed over a thousand rupee note to Santosh for the crane fare and said, “You go along with the crane, leave the car in the workshop and go home. Get the car repair in the morning. I will manage coming to office tomorrow morning.”
While he turned and walked away from me, (I don’t know why) I called and handed over another five hundred rupee note to him, “Take some auto from there to home, it’s very cold outside.”
Santosh was surely taken aback at this new side of me and I didn’t have the courage that time to wait and look at him. I turned and started walking towards the bus stand.
There was a whirl of thoughts spinning within me causing endless ripples making me restless and uneasy. Various other things started coming to my mind, all about my personal life and behaviour. While I was at respectable position in my professional life, my personal life remained somewhat hollow from inside. It never occurred to me to think about the people around me, about their feelings, their thoughts. Santosh, for example, was with me for last 5 years and considering the amount of time I had spent with him, he has been like a family. But I didn’t have any qualms in admitting that I was rude to Santosh most of the time, that too without any reason while he was always gentle and silent at all my accusations. I was compelled to introspect and ponder over the kind of person I was turning into.
Amidst those churning thoughts and emotions, I finally arrived at the bus stand. There was just a small tent behind, which accompanied the otherwise isolated bus stand. As I stood there waiting for the bus with those thoughts still boggling my mind, I heard the cry of an infant which was coming from the tent behind. The cry persisted for some minutes prompting me turn around and look behind. Suddenly a lady came out and picked a couple of wood logs lying adjacent to the tent. She saw me and perhaps sensing my puzzled look, said, “Saab, bachcha bhookha hai aur ro raha hai isi liye yeh lakdi le rahi hoon. Chulha jala ke uske liye thoda doodh karna padega.” (Sir, my child is hungry, that’s why I am taking this wood log, will have to light the stove and prepare the milk). I nodded and smiled.
“All mothers are like that only.” I remembered how my mother used to wake number of times during the night when I was a kid – sometimes to take me to the toilet (as I was very scared of the darkness and used to wake her up each time I wanted to pee), sometimes to sing me a lullaby to lull me to sleep (when I was awoken in between) and sometimes to play with me when I couldn’t sleep even after every effort of her. But never ever she was furious or angry at me for spoiling her sleep. She always showered her love and affection, come what may.
Mothers are really a special creation of the almighty, as someone has rightly said that God couldn’t be everywhere so He created a Mother. And the strange part is that all mothers are the same. Look at this mother who has woken up in the middle of this cold night without any complaint to feed her child. For the simple job of preparing the milk, she has to light up the stove, struggle with the moist wood logs and then prepare the milk. But she is happy doing it, because she is the Mother.
The incident made me remember my last conversation with the mother. My mother always have this habit to call me up in the afternoon and also at late evening (when I get stretched at the office) to check whether I have taken the lunch and the dinner. And unless I respond her with affirmation, she would call at regular intervals urging me to eat. Today night also when she called me for the third time telling me to eat something as it was already 10.00 PM, I shouted at her saying, “Mother, I am doing something important in the office and you are disturbing me with your frequent calls. I will eat whenever I will feel hungry. You please sleep and let me work.” I could feel the lump in my throat as I recalled this and unknowingly a tear drop rolled from my eyes. As I suddenly wiped it off, another one from the other eye followed. These passing hours of the dark cold hazy night was showing me the mirror as to where do I stand. I wanted to escape from myself and hide somewhere amidst that dense fog which embodied the whole surrounding.
I cursed myself for that moment and for every those moments when I was rude to her. I felt like hugging my mother right now and apologize for every time I shouted at her.
As I stood there, the flash of light jolted me; the bus has arrived. I remained motionless as the bus honked loudly. “Sir, do you want to come”, the conductor asked. I felt like telling him that’s the only thing I want currently, to come and go to my mother, as soon as I can. There were some loose ends which I wanted to mend, I wished to apparate to my home instantly; that abode which appeared to me as nothing more than a mere structure of mortar and brick was suddenly becoming my only solace. I simply nodded and boarded the bus.
The bus dropped me at the stand 2-3 km from my home and I signalled the auto standing at the stand to take me home. As I entered in the auto, I found a packet lying on the seat.
“Oh sorry sir, I will just pick that up”, the auto driver said.
“No issues. But what’s that?” I asked.
“Sir, I have bought a new sweater for my kid, the one with the picture of Chota Bheem at front. You know, he is really crazy about Chota Bheem and has been asking me for its toy and sweater since long. I’m going to surprise him today. Though, I could only manage the sweater as of now but will soon get that toy too for him” He said.
He could hardly conceal the excitement as he spoke. I looked at him for a moment. He himself was wearing an old half sleeve sweater with a shawl draped randomly. I wasn’t sure whether those couple of things managed to shun off the nail biting cold. I just smiled as he placed the packet at the back.
I somehow remembered my father and the times we spent together when I was little. No matter what important work he was doing, the moment I used to cover his eyes with my hands from behind, he was all mine. He would leave all the work and play with me & had all the time of the world for me. Everything came in front of my eyes afresh and anew - the manner in which he used to hug me up, the manner in which he used to chuckle when I unsuccessfully tried to embrace him in the humble circumference of my hands. I couldn’t understand the reason, as to why I couldn’t hug him up and ever since then, I wanted to be big enough so that my hands could finally embrace him to the fullest. Now I realise that the reason was not that I was a kid but because fathers are a larger than life figure and it is impossible for a child to hold and contain their fathomless love.
The irony is that now when I have grown up, it never occurred to me to go, catch him from behind and hug him tightly. While he always had plenty of time for me whenever I wanted, I have always found it secondary to spend even a small one hour with him. Last week when he asked me to take a leave as he wanted to go to some temple with me to pay respects, as he had vowed to take me there when I was last ill, I simply refused, “Dad, I can’t take a leave for going to temple. There’s a lot of work at office, I can’t come. You please go with mother and pay my respects.”
Life has its own peculiar way of connecting the silence within you and when the connection is established, the feeling of realization that stems through completely jolts you from within. The veil is lifted and you are confronted with the real you who is astonishingly different from what you thought you are.
Lost in these thoughts, I didn’t realised when the auto stopped. I stood motionless. “Sir, your home has come” the auto guy said. “Sir…”, he said again turning back at me. “Sir, are you fine, you seem to be unwell”, he asked perhaps seeing my moist eyes and numb face.
“No, I am fine, just feeling a bit cold.” I paid him the charge and handed him an additional hundred rupee note, “Do take that Chota Bheem toy too for your kid, it will make him happy.” Without waiting for his reaction, I climbed stairs to my home - MY HOME and not the structure of mortar and bricks.
I found myself in that dark cold night. The dense fog which could easily hide even the apparent of the secrets revealed me my real treasuries and the miles covered bridged the distance between that structure of mortar & bricks and my sweet home.
I rang the bell and my father opened the door. “You got very late today, son”, He said.
My mother emerged just from his behind, “You change yourself and I will bring the food. I know you haven’t eaten anything in the night. Curse these office guys who extract the blood and sweat from my son. See, how weak you have become.” As always, both of them were awake till then, waiting for me.
I held her hand and said, “Dad…Mother…I know I have not been a good son but I love you a lot”, I couldn’t say anything else and broke down. I hugged them both and cried.
It was truly a homecoming and it felt good to be back home.
~Shubh Life . . . Om Sai Ram
© 2015 Manish Purohit (Reserved)
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